Washington County committee sends letter to intent to solar energy firm – Glens Falls Post
FORT EDWARD — A letter of intent is on its way from Washington County to SolarCity, a publicly traded energy services company, a step that could eventually lead to a solar farm on a 17-acre site near the former Pleasant Valley infirmary in Argyle.
That letter, however, is non-binding, and the step is a baby step, according to Washington County Finance Committee Chairman Brian Campbell, Hebron’s town supervisor. He explained the letter was written solely to meet a Monday deadline in the event the county later decides to apply for a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant for the project.
For now, the committee is still researching the program.
Discussion prior to the vote did not include mention of a federal investigation begun in 2012 to determine whether SolarCity, along with two other solar installers, inflated installation prices, which were funded by federal clean-energy grants.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General is currently conducting that investigation.
White Creek Town Supervisor Robert Shay was the lone vote in opposition to the letter of intent when the Finance Committee voted Thursday morning.
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Shay said he was unaware SolarCity was under investigation. While uncertainty about the company’s background caused him some reservation, he had larger concerns.
“I just feel like we’re dealing with something we don’t know anything about. I’ve got more questions than answers,” he said. “Everyone’s excited about the potential savings, but it’s the principal of this. I don’t think we should be going down that road.”
Those savings would come in the form of a power purchase agreement, with the county locking in at a price of $0.077 per kilowatt hour.
SolarCity would install the solar farm on the site at no cost to the county. The county would enter into a 20-year contract with the company, paying the set rate per kilowatt hour. If SolarCity sells power over the contracted price, the county would receive the overage.
If the price of power goes under $0.077 per kilowatt hour, the county continues to pay the set price.
Argyle Town Supervisor Robert Henke voice concerned over the contract length.
“I have a real concern about a 20-year commitment to utilities,” he said.
Committee members also discussed the fluctuating price of power, as the potential for fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to come to the state in the future could lower electricity prices.
Easton Town Supervisor Daniel Shaw is not on the Finance Committee but was in attendance for the meeting.
“Ultimately,” he said, “we’re guaranteeing (SolarCity) if there is a shortfall.”
Kingsbury Town Supervisor James Lindsay agreed the move was risky. ”Any certainty here is as certain as an afternoon at the racino,” he said.
Jennifer Jachym, senior project development manager for SolarCity, confirmed Thursday afternoon the company was being investigated and, so far, had not heard any findings.
“They’re not moving too quickly,” she said. “They are doing their due diligence.”
In addition to the Argyle site, SolarCity engineers also visited the former Easton landfill.
Jackson Town Supervisor Alan Brown said he liked the idea of using the former landfill, as it would use land that’s not suitable for other purposes, but also free up the Argyle site for other possibilities, such as sale.
Jachym, said some municipalities use landfill sites for solar farms, but at a higher cost.
Because the ground cannot be penetrated, a ballasted system is installed for the panels, reducing savings by about 15 percent.
Washington County would pay $0.090 per kilowatt hour if using the landfill site.
When Campbell was asked Thursday evening via a phone interview if he was aware of the investigation, he said he had heard some things, but nothing specific. He said the letter was not a commitment, but keeping the door open while they look into all the options.
“There’s no guarantees we would even get the grant,” he said.